Good behaviour must be on show

19th April 2013 at 01:00
Ofsted's focus on `attitudes to learning' signals a shift in expectations. Paul Dix suggests adjusting your approach

Those of you who have recently been through the Ofsted mangle - or skipped through inspection with annoying smugness - may think that "behaviour" is dead. Long live "attitudes to learning". But this change in Ofsted's language is not just irritating wordplay, it marks a shift in expectations around behaviour. And once you get past the frustration of what seems to be yet another hoop to jump through, there are opportunities to use it to your benefit and that of your students.

Addressing conduct with Year 7 or a foundation class in the first term is essential. Yet most schools are still using the same basic rules to address the learning behaviours of Years 7 and 11. Where is the progression? Where is the expectation shift? If you continue to base your behaviour policy on a set of simplistic conduct rules you may be missing a trick. If you are still talking to Year 11 about "listening while others speak", something is not working.

Ofsted's shift in approach needs a shift in classroom practice. But before you throw everything up in the air, try this simple project. The best policy is born out of focused action research at the classroom level, not by overwrought senior leaders.

Using simple, whole-class reward systems and focusing on single behaviours can transform classroom practice. Try something for the next 30 days. Agree with your teaching team on one behaviour that your students urgently need to achieve to help them learn. Steer away from mundane phrases such as "stay on task". Instead, pay attention to the moments you notice students being inquisitive or curious, engaged or autonomous. You will be fostering good attitudes and teaching behaviour along the way.

A simple tally chart to record each good questioncollaborative investigationdetermined effort soon morphs into creative substitutes. Place table tennis balls in a clear tube outside the PE changing rooms to reward students who are ready in under two minutes, or use giant jigsaws that gradually reveal the primary source material for the next scheme of work.

Operating a class rewards system like a game show host is exhausting and may not be your first choice of teaching role. But you don't need a personality transplant to use class rewards effectively. Share the responsibility for positive reinforcement with your class. Set up five tallies for peer assessment and at the end of the lesson ask two students to nominate someone they think deserves one.

With a single behaviour in focus and a simple tally system it is easy to gauge how far and how fast you are teaching, encouraging and fostering attitudes for learning. Share the evidence with colleagues as the project develops.

When the children reach their weekly target of tallies, keep the reward small and relevant. The satisfaction of reaching the agreed target can be satisfying enough. Rewards do not have to have material value. You do not need to give students "stuff" to buy their improved behaviour.

Beyond the classroom, the pursuit of improved attitudes to learning is seeded in more casual interactions. Shift your topics of conversation in less formal situations. "What are you reading?" may seem an unusual conversation starter by staff to students in the lunch queue when previous chats may have been confined to football. But their responses could surprise you. It's the start of making them feel that reading for pleasure is not only normal, but expected. Inspectors will ask the children about their attitudes to learning. It is sensible for teachers to open up the topic more casually well before they arrive.

Meanwhile, deliver your sanctions privately where possible and keep them separate from the ongoing rewards tally. In time, you will notice that you don't need to use so much punishment. The truth is that the more good behaviour you comment on, the more you will get of it: even with children who may initially fight you.

The creation of a class rewards display shifts the culture of the classroom and, in turn, of the department. It is a clear visual statement of intent. It works to refocus students, reinvigorate classroom practice and eradicate low-level disruption. And children really like it.

Paul Dix is lead trainer at Pivotal Education.

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